A friend was putting on an Italian-themed dinner last weekend and asked me to bring something. When I told her I'd make focaccia, she was so excited. Don't you just love cooking for people like that, who really appreciate it! I left the tomatoes off, since the main dish was tomato-y enough.
As my "regulars" know, I love to knead bread dough by hand (it's very therapeutic!); but my focaccia requires no kneading, no food processor, no stand mixer. Just stir it up and let it rest in the refrigerator for one to three days. It practically makes itself!
Use a good olive oil, one with a flavor you really like because there's olive oil in it, under it and on it. You can leave off the tomatoes or replace them with something else: caramelized onions, sprigs of rosemary, sliced or roughly chopped olives, shredded Parmesan, coarse sea salt.
Just don't add too many things or too much; this isn't a pizza. Great with the meal or before the meal with a glass of wine. Do you consider bread to be a legitimate appetizer?
Sun-Dried Tomato Focaccia
(Makes one 18x13-inch)
4 dip-and-sweep cups (20 ounces/567 grams) unbleached all-purpose flour, divided
1 3/4 teaspoons salt
2 tablespoons sugar
1 1/4 teaspoon instant yeast
1 3/4 cup (14 fluid ounces) water, room temperature
9 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil, divided
1/3 cup finely chopped sun-dried tomatoes
3/4 teaspoon dried basil
3/4 teaspoon dried oregano
3/4 teaspoon dried parsley
Optional: 1/4 teaspoon coarse sea salt or 1/4 cup shredded Parmesan
1 Start focaccia dough one to three days ahead. Measure or weigh the flour into a 1.5-quart bowl. Oil a 2-quart glass measure or bowl with 1 tablespoon of the olive oil. In large bowl, whisk together 2 cups of the flour, salt, sugar and instant yeast. Add water and 3 tablespoons olive oil, and stir until thoroughly combined. Continue stirring slowly for 1 minute. Stir in remaining flour about a quarter cup at a time, reserving the final quarter cup for shaping the soft and slightly sticky dough into a somewhat smooth but very loose "ball." Just sprinkle a bit of flour onto the dough in the bowl and fold it onto itself several times, adding the remaining flour a little at a time.
2 Place the smooth but very loose "ball" of dough in the oiled 2-quart glass measure or bowl; drizzle with 1 tablespoon olive oil and spread the oil over the surface. Cover with loose lid or plastic wrap. Place in refrigerator for at least 24 hours or up to three days.
3 Remove dough from refrigerator. Line an 18x13x1-inch half-sheet pan with a sheet of parchment paper; oil the parchment-lined pan with 2 tablespoons olive oil. Scrape dough out onto middle of prepared baking sheet. With oiled hands, press out the dough a bit; don‘t try to fill the pan. Cover loosely with oiled plastic wrap; let rest and warm for 2 hours.
4 Uncover and, with oiled hands, stretch and press out the dough to fit the pan. If it’s too springy, cover and let relax for 15 minutes before patting it out. Repeat if necessary. Drizzle with 2 tablespoons olive oil. Top with chopped sun-dried tomatoes, pressing them into the dough with your fingers. Cover loosely with lightly oiled plastic wrap and let rise in a warm place until very puffy, which can take anywhere from 2 to 3 hours.
5 During last 20 minutes, preheat oven to 450F/230C/Gas8. Just before placing it in the oven, dimple (gently poke) the dough again with your fingers and sprinkle with herbs (and perhaps salt or cheese). Place in oven, and then immediately turn temperature down to 425F/220C/Gas7. Bake for about 25 minutes, until golden brown. Loosen focaccia from pan with a spatula and slide onto a rack to cool slightly, about 20 minutes. On cutting board, cut into 32 2x3-inch pieces and serve warm or at room temperature.
Note: If serving later or even the next day, wrap the cut focaccia in foil and store at room temperature. Reheat, wrapped, at 375F/190C/Gas5 for 10 minutes.